Chapter 2—The shadow.
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“Mother, this was another incredible year of feasting—I thank you dearly….” Seventeen year old Matthias sighed contentedly as he gently pushed aside his second plate of salad and reached for a bowl of candied apricots. Matthias, now a very noble young man, was seated at the end of the table. He had a stern face, yet it also presented kindness…and if one looked hard enough, one would notice the touch of fear as well. Matthias had wonderful brown eyes the people of Wynpen had commented on when he was a baby. His hair was rather a mess of blackish red hair and long sideburns.
“You are most welcome, son, and indeed a young man who deserves it.” There was nothing more than The lady Gwendolyn loved more than to see her beloved son eat and grow stronger with each passing day. Sometimes, despite this, she would feel a little more than sorry for the Matthias who was too ashamed to speak or inquire of his true family.
But there were most assuredly questions that troubled his minds day in and day out. Who were his real parents? And where did they come from? Yes, it was said that he had been sent off from Bruinshire, but he somehow had trouble believing in that fact. Bruinshire. Matthias was rather fond of that place, he had no idea why. His geography tutor spent large amounts of his study time explaining inquiries that Matthias had about the place. It was rather close (just a little southwest) of Ereth Londale. Matthias was much more than fond of Ereth Londale, dreaming of it many times. Someday he wished to travel there to see what it was like, to explore within its walls and discover its people.
He would travel—if only he weren’t so afraid. Matthias couldn’t decipher the meaning of the foreboding he kept with him of voyaging out. He felt safe in, and only in, Wynpen, under the protection of his mother’s keep. Matthias had no idea what protection really meant, believing that the few paladins stationed around at different citadels was wonderful and thought nothing could penetrate his home.
Matthias thought of these things as he munched away. All the while, Gwendolyn eyed him kindly, noticing the faraway look in his eyes. “Is something the matter, son? I can see the look in your eyes—it is very distant. You are thinking of the want to journey again, aren’t you? Yes, I can see the small flame of adventure ignited in you—but you are frightened of something…what is it?”
Matthias smiled at his mother. “You truly can see my thoughts…but unfortunately the reason you cannot see why I am frightened to venture out to the world,” there was a long pause. ‘Be—because I am not sure of the reason either….I’m sure someday I will find the answer to this. And I’ll change it! Some day I won’t be afraid of adventures! Yes, and someday—someday….” Matthias sighed heavily and slunk back in his chair. “Huh, that is a lot of ‘somedays’.”
Gwendolyn chuckled and took a small sip of wine. She wiped her mouth with a cloth and looked her son in the eyes and spoke in no more than a whisper. “Yes it is, Matthias, but even ‘someday’ will come sooner or later. I’m sure before you or I know it, you’ll be on your way, out to delve into the many lands in this world. And you will discover that adventures aren’t so bad after all. I wish when I was a child, I had that privilege to do what you desire now.” Gwendolyn now looked down at the white tablecloth and obtained the exact look in her eyes that her son had. It was faraway and she was thinking of quests that people of stories long ago had traveled.
“I—I would have loved to seen the old world…”
“The old world?”
“Yes,” Gwendolyn looked up and smiled. “The old world. The times when elves ran carefree through the Lum woods, and the dwarves sang songs and dug palaces beneath the Carrion mountains; the times when naiads and dryads danced along the banks of the river Fenrien, and men ruled great in the realm of Arndain…the old world.”
“Arndain,” Matthias huffed. “They are not but a complacent race because their land expands a fairly wide margin within the lower west lands!”
“Matthias!…but you are only jealous? You wish Wynpen had the appearance of such a great place, don’t you? You desire our land to be not bordered by the edge of a forest, but of the southwestern shores…and you wish our home to be that of a greater advent such as the kingdom of Luindon that overlooks the whole domain of Arndain….”
There was an awkward silence that held for a while, and the festivities and clatter of dishes on the table echoed strangely. Matthias sighed once again. “Y—yes I suppose that it could possibly be a purpose why I feel that way…jealous. But why should I? Wynpen will never be such a place—with great stone towers surrounding the white stoned edifice of Luindon. Never will it have such a landscape as the shores of Arndain that blow the ships of foreigners to its borders. I need to realize that…I mustn’t be resentful….” Matthias choked on his own words, a mix of dispiritedness and a singe of anger at the same time.
“But now, my son,” The lady Gwendolyn sat back in her chair. “Just because Arndain holds those ample and wonderful entities in appearance, does not prove the have the corresponding manner inwardly. It would not amaze me to find that the people of Wynpen have a much more noble disposition than those of the land you speak so much of. Be proud of the line you follow. You are a very special and important fragment of Wynpen and you should never be dispirited by the line you follow…understand me? Be proud of who you are…”
Those wonderful words had suddenly changed Matthias’ mind on things and would forever. He was a part of the line of Wynpen, and he should honestly be self-satisfied with it. But on the inside he knew he was not truthfully of the line of Wynpen, for who knew where he had in fact originated from…hoping the domain of Ereth Londale, but soon casting aside the thought—Matthias a proud to be of Wynpen.
“Matthias! O, Matthias!” One of the girls of Wynpen, a small child by the name of Greta, one of Matthias’ favorite little children in Wynpen, had come suddenly as if from nowhere dashing towards him and his mother. “Dear Greta, how are you doing this fine day?” Matthias grin happily upon seeing someone who truly brought joy to him. But then noticing almost instantly the concern on the small child’s face, he never let her answer the question. “Why, Greta, whatever seems to be distressing you? You look frightened….”
“O, Matty!” Greta cried. She was one of the only (in fact she was) who called Matthias, “Matty”.
“I don’t know what it is, but there seems to be something around the east side of our homes—a shadow as black as the night. I don’t know what it is—but, O Matty, I’m frightened by it!”
“A shadow? Shadow…Greta what are you jabbering on about?” Matthias furrowed his eyebrows in question. “Yes, a shadow! And I think it hurt my friend, Thomas! Matty, it was so frightening, it suddenly stopped moving so slowly as Thomas and I wondered what it could possibly be and whooshed,” Greta threw her arms in the air suddenly. “Right into his mouth and eyes. Thomas dropped to the floor, instantly. I tried to wake him up but he wouldn’t move…Matty, I’m afeared that he’s hurt!”
All the while a smile had grown on Gwendolyn’s lips as she sipped her wine—all the while, that is, until now she heard of the incident that happened to Thomas. It was slapped off her face and she grabbed the child by her shoulders and brought her face close to Greta’s.
“What are you talking about? Thomas is hurt?…what in god’s name do you mean a shadow like the night crept through his mouth and eyes?…Greta, answer me!” Gwendolyn slightly shook the small girl, until tears involuntarily sprung from Greta’s eyes.
“Madam, I don’t know!” She suddenly wept quite hard now. “I don’t know and I’m scared!…I’m scared…” The whole time, none of the feasting people of Wynpen took any notice of what was happening.
Matthias had already left the table and was now running as hard as he could the east side of Wynpen where Greta had spoken of Thomas. Not knowing why, but somehow the descriptions of Greta’s tale struck a foreboding in his heart that compelled him to bring his trusted sword, Avenfern, along with him…Greta was usually not one to lie about things, and black shadows that crept into people was something that did not sound enticing to Matthias.
Making his way around the stone walls of the cottages, he neared the very eastern border of Wynpen in a mad dash searching for Thomas. He never really gave much attention to the fact, due to his advancing panic, but notice the woods couldn’t be seen fairly clearly as it usually could be. “Thomas!” Matthias now cried out his eyes growing wide with fear. “Thomas!” Where was the boy?
Then, luckily out of the corner of his eye, Matthias spotted him lying limply on the grass near one of the cottages, eyes wide with dismay on a pale face. He ran to the boy, and kneeled as his side trying to listen for a heartbeat. Matthias listen as hard as he possibly could, drowning out all other sounds around him. But there was only silence—the very sound of death. “Thomas?” Matthias choked…but only absolute quiet answered him—except for his very name that answered right then.
It was like nothing Matthias had ever heard in his life. A voice so chilling that struck his heart like the shaft of an arrow. Matthias slowly raised his head and his fearful eyes were met with what couldn’t have been anything other than Greta’s “shadow”.
It was indeed pitch black like the night. Not exactly like smoke, but more of a resemblance to a mist, that wavered ominously above the ground. It hissed Matthias’ name once again, and the another wave of chills was sent up his spine.
It took a while for him to be convinced that this mist, this “shadow”, was actually whispering his name like a dark spirit out of the abyss, and even longer to realize that it was slowly advancing towards him. Upon realizing this cognition, Matthias rose to his feet, and immediately drew Avenfern that glared in the sunlight. Matthias always marveled at the way his sword glimmered gloriously under the rays of the sun, and he now held it proudly, yet fearfully, hoping to blind this black mist with its intense glares.
At first it seemed to work, and the shadow sizzled like a flame to water, and retreated some couple feet back. Seeing this, Matthias was relieved if only a little, and fixed his blade even readier to the sunlight—the sunlight short-lived, that is.
For at that moment, a scream like no other pierced forth through the crisp fall air from the shadow, like an enormous field hawk giving out its death cry. Then all light was abruptly diminished. The shadow (that still held its appalling shriek) had covered everything Matthias could possibly see in a black shroud as quick as wind could travel. He gasped, inhaling a mouthful of something that tasted of cold ink—the shadow. Panic beyond imagination overwhelmed Matthias as he ran in any random direction for he could not see five feet in front of himself. Slamming into the side of a cottage, and tasting blood, he groped for his way around until perhaps he would find the door and get inside the shelter.
The whole time, Matthias had been holding his breath, afraid of what might happen to him if he were to breathe such a fume as this and face the same end as poor Thomas. Matthias, lungs burning and screaming for air, cried tears for the small child who still lay on the frozen grass, lifeless, and searched desperately for the door.
Eventually he found it, coming in contact with the cold wood of the entrance, right as his lungs were ready to give up on him. He burst through into the home, gasping loudly for air, and slammed it behind him. The breath of the shadow he had inhaled was beginning to take effect on Matthias, and his head reeled in pain, his vision blurred. He couldn’t quite walk straight as he stumbled like a drunkard over to the window. Gazing out, all he could see was black, the black fog of death that covered everything it could reach.
It suddenly had occurred to Matthias, remembering the feast back some quarter mile back. There were helpless people there. All the civilians of Wynpen, poor Greta…Gwendolyn. Gwendolyn!
Matthias’ mind burst with the fact that his own mother was out there amidst this abominable shadow, and clumsily turned to the door. All Matthias could think of now was the shadow engulfing his own mother. Right into his mouth and eyes…I tried to wake him but he wouldn’t move…Matty I’m afeared he’s hurt!
Matthias’ mind and body erupted in fear and panic, as he swaggered towards the door once again. He had to find his mother, he had to save her. It didn’t matter, Matthias would go back out to the shadow if it meant saving his own mother’s life. She had saved him when he was a baby—he had to save her now. He had to! He had….
As Matthias reached for the door, beginning to froth at the mouth slightly, without warning his mind was drawn from him. Eyes rolling to the back of his head, Matthias collapsed to the cottage floor in a heap of unconsciousness.
Nathan D. Gage